Djamila Ibrahim’s Things Are Good Now explores the hidden struggles for migrants
Those of us who have never fled a war-torn homeland may assume that for those who have, moving to a peaceable country like Canada marks the end of their troubles.
What we might not realize is new, personal battles may just be beginning. That’s the territory Toronto author Djamila Ibrahim explores in Things Are Good Now, a collection of nine fictional short stories of East African migrants.
Ibrahim has lived the migrant experience herself. Born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, she moved to Canada with her family in 1990; she has also worked as an adviser for Citizenship and Immigration Canada.
The opener, “Little Copper Bullets,” follows the intense Aisha, a former Eritrean soldier who for years led troops on the battlefield, an AK-47 slung over her shoulder. After the war, demobilized and seeing new jobs go to the men, she moves to Canada but can only find work cleaning public toilets and doing hospital laundry. To complicate matters, her boyfriend, Adam, is from Ethiopia, Eritrea’s longtime enemy. When war breaks out there again, Aisha must decide where her loyalties lie.
In “Not a Small Thing,” intellectual activist Selam chooses to don the hijab and is then assaulted because of it. Her best friend, who had tried to talk her out of wearing it, must process a complex array of emotions.
The titular story, “You Made Me Do This” focuses on grieving mother Mariam, who almost died to bring her family to Ottawa, only to have her son Ismail fall in with the wrong crowd and get killed. Dazed, Mariam struggles to make sense of the tragedy, even confronting her own role. “At least, where she grew up, people clearly knew they were at war,” Ibrahim writes.
The theme of personal conflicts, daily humiliations and hidden struggles is a running thread. Days after arriving in Canada, a woman experiences sheer terror when she emerges from her cleaning shift after dark to find snow blanketing the city, erasing all the landmarks she’d painstakingly memorized. A Black man watches white people’s mannerisms by day and carefully practices them in front of his bathroom mirror at night.
Ibrahim writes with intensity and empathy, drawing believably complex characters who are understandably torn between bleak alternatives.
Things Are Good Now feels fresh and raw and real. Amid the disheartening racism and sexism are the pull of patriotism, the solidity of traditionalism and ultimately, mercifully, the power of even small glimpses of optimism.
Journalist Marcia Kaye is a frequent contributor to these pages.
SOURCE : THESTAR.COM